What’s wrong with Humanism?

Someone I respect a lot makes it clear that they are a ‘humanist’

What is humanism? Well, I looked it up to be certain I was ‘right’:

At least Wikipedia sates that: “Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition.”

So this leads to my question, which is… what about intuition and ancestral/inherited/in-born memory — otherwise arguably referred to (in the animal world) as instincts? (i.e. feelings/reactions that appear to be ‘built-in’ to a living being from the moment of birth, or in other words before any ‘learning’ has had time to take place.)

Whilst I, myself, have been educated to understand, to value and to require in most cases critical thinking and empirical evidence… I have remained from an early age influenced by intuition and instinct.

When a dog or a horse (for common example — but in fact any non-human ‘being’ could be cited) reacts to their instinctive feeling that something is ‘wrong’ (with a situation/a person, etc.) this is put-down to being an ‘instinctive’ reaction. This is in reference to the frequently noted times that horses are inexplicably ‘spooked’ and the threat later reveals itself, or the dog that seems to know when its master leaves work though they have no set pattern, hours or itinerary… among many other possible examples (including the oft-witnessed, sad cases of ‘supposedly dumb’ animals reacting to being in the line at slaughterhouses!).

When a human expresses the fact that they ‘feel’ that something is ‘wrong’, or ‘odd’ or indeed ‘right’ — this presumably also is down to instinct or intuition… yet it may often be written-off as ‘just being silly’, or perhaps allowing things (like superstition) to influence them, or just explained as them being ‘impressionable’… Whilst this may be true in some cases, it seems that in this current world we are constantly exhorted NOT to trust these inexplicable feelings, not to react to our ‘instinctive concerns’ and moreover to ‘rely on experts’ in almost all walks of life…

Proof (if some form of empiricism is required) that ‘experts are often wrong’, I am certain, abounds. Proof that ‘intuition’ has been right in many cases is also available (although frequently derided or disregarded on the grounds of being ‘anecdotal’ by those of a scientific bent — although my question has always been, just how many anecdotes does it take before it becomes accepted as empirical data? 5, 10 50, 100… frequently empirical, scientific studies seem initially only to involve an experimental cohort of perhaps 10 or 20 ‘subjects’).

It seems that ‘expertism’ has been an inherent plank of the apparent strategy that has resulted in the progressive dumbing-down of huge tranches of humanity (particularly in the so-called developed world). In all societies it seems that there has been a respected font of wisdom, sometimes called the elder, the wise-man, the shaman, or even witch-doctor (which I presume would be classed as disparaging and racially negative term these days)… we (in the West) have made a whole strata of society into ‘experts’ in various fields that we should ‘rely on’ rather than practicing our own ‘common sense’ or instinctive wisdom, and even simply developing our own skills and abilities (after all, where did those experts themselves ‘start’!?).. The result.. broadly speaking.. a sever decline in common sense (presumably a result of the ‘use it or lose it’ rule!).

So whilst I can wholeheartedly support the idea that people should avoid being influenced by ‘superstition’ or ‘dogma’… things that, after all, have been created as tools and mechanisms for control (along with all frameworks of politics and/or religion… it is an equally inappropriate ‘polar opposite’ to suggest that ‘all the answers’ must be supported by the humanist principle of requiring rational explanation and empirical evidence.

It would seems that any hard line requirement for everything to adhere to rational and empirical guidelines will mitigate against the very real, and very important but admittedly less ‘explicable’ aspects of human nature… intuition and instinct… I would tend to argue that should we ever do away completely with intuition and instinct… we will also, shortly thereafter, be doing away with our species.. But that of course is just my intuitive and instinctive response! And perhaps if one is to consider a future race of humans totally reliant on empiricism, rationality and critical thinking we will then forgo many (if not ALL) future ‘moments of insight’, ‘crazy ideas’ that lead to major innovations, and in general over time, any substantial steps forward for humanity… So perhaps we are really talking about ‘De-Humanism’ if our species is somehow meant to thrive without those critical faculties of intuition and instinct that have so often led to inspiration!

What do you reckon, dear humanists?

What is it to be Human?

Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years filming interviews with 2000 people in 60 countries to try to address some of the most basic questions about our ‘humanity’.

In the course of these exceptional films the many individuals express their personal view about what have been important aspects of their lives, their views about life, love and many other things. Many stories relate to the challenges that trying to be a human requires each person to deal with, some are terribly sad, others are beacons of hope, all might touch something deep inside the viewer.

By turns sad, beautiful, heartwarming, harrowing, spirit-enhancing this wonderful collection of ordinary humans expressing their thoughts and feelings is something that — given the right attitude and approach — we should all watch and can all benefit from.

Arthus-Bertrand’s incredibly beautifully filmed compositions alternate between the interviews and simply stunning footage of aerial observations of many parts of the world, from bustling cities to barren snowscapes, accompanied by a perfectly chosen soundtrack representing the music of many cultures with fine additional music from Armand Amar.

If you manage to restrain the tears within the first ten minutes of watching ‘volume 1’ alone, in this web edition, you are made of sterner stuff than me!

This marvellous project is certainly an emotional roller-coaster ride but one that is not to be missed. Many thanks due to Yann Arthus-Bertrand for taking on this worthwhile and immense task:

Volume 1 (1 hour 23 min):

Volume 2 (1 hour 26 min):

Volume 3 (1 hour 33 min):